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The Green Life: Book Review Wednesday: To the Extreme

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June 22, 2011

Book Review Wednesday: To the Extreme

Books about environmentalism Every Wednesday, we review a selection of new and upcoming books addressing a specific aspect of environmentalism. Today we're recommending tales of adventure at the edge of survival.

When the Killing’s Done (By T.C. Boyle, $27, Penguin Group, 2011): Boyle’s distaste for the empty noise of modernity colors the fictional story of Alma Takesue, a National Park Service biologist in Santa Barbara. The conflict between her and Dave LaJoy, the activist who would prevent her from exterminating the rats of the Channel islands takes readers offshore to the islands' lawless terrain. Like the “thin bellying sheet” of first water that enters a sinking boat, the story's momentum plies back and forth between survival and elimination, consistently human, consistently animal, poetically and energetically written.

Year of the Pig (by Mark Hainds, $17, University of Alabama, 2011): Feral pigs threaten vast portions of U.S. ecosystems, so Hainds, a forester, did good by spending 2007 hog-hunting in 11 states. Hainds’ anecdotes, titled by a tree of each different ecosystem, wield dry humor and the admirable values of a farmer’s son to critique the current state of hunting. His sympathetic intelligence suffuses this seriously funny nonfiction.

Danger Calling: True Adventures of Risk and Faith (by Peb Jackson and James Lund, $13, Revell, 2010): Jackson and Lund designed Danger Calling, a collection of adrenaline-filled short stories, to give boys (though it suits girls too) vicarious thrills that emotionally challenge them. This book focuses on content — preferably grisly and shocking, like that of the "miracle girl" plane crash survivor in Peru — and concludes each piece with probing reader exercises. Be aware: This book identifies closely with “bible study.”

The Last Man on the Mountain: The Death of an American Adventurer on K2 (by Jennifer Jordan, $27, W.W. Norton and Co., 2010): With an explicit devotion to accuracy, Jordan reconstructs the story of the death of mountaineer Dudley Wolfe, the first of K2's body count. Well written, thoroughly researched, and highly engaging, this story of a man trapped in the wrong company depicts the dying lifestyle of old monied America in 1939.

White Heat (by M.J. McGrath, $26, Viking, 2011): Half-Inuit female hunting guide Edie Kiglatuk plays the lone ranger in this tale, an Arctic mystery and thriller filled with scenes of the cold north's coarse, harsh life. McGrath writes clearly and smoothly, constructing the novel like a movie.

--Juliana Hanle

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